What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

28 August 2013

"I've never seen anybody use it!"

Wednesday used to be my day for writing about life without a car, and my enjoyment (or otherwise!) of the local public transit, car sharing, and bike lane network. I've kind of gotten away from that, but for your reading pleasure: A post about the local train.

We moved apartments last month, away from one that was great apart from its location on the very eastern edge of town to one more in the middle of things. Our new apartment is close enough to a train station for me to take the train to work now, which I've appreciated. Since I work part-time, I leave at 2 PM and can usually get a seat on the train with no problem for the ride home. Going to work, though, is another story.

The trains are packed full at peak times. Packed. As in, some days I can't even get close enough to a bar to hang onto because of all the people in the way. The evenings are worse than the mornings, I discovered last week, but the mornings are pretty bad (and look to get worse now that schools and universities are back in session).

This was a little field trip we took with our interns from
work last summer. Middle of the day, many seats filled,
bike racks occupied even before we got on
(at the second stop on the line!).
I'm not too disgruntled about this. The train is doing exactly what it's meant to do-- move a lot of people quickly. If a couple of routes a day are full, great. That's exactly what the transit system needs to justify expanding service.

But it took a while to build up to this. When I first moved to Austin in 2010, the train had been operational for about four months and the great joke going around was that the train cost millions of dollars and three people were riding it.

Apparently, that notion took hold and refuses to die, despite standing-room-only trains for most of the day. Just this week, a visitor to the office told me, "You know, I've never seen anybody on that train." He said this minutes after I had pried myself out of the crowd to get off the train and head to the office.

I told him, "You must not be looking at it right." He was kind enough to believe, after I described my daily ride, that the train is indeed full for most routes of the day.

It's funny to me how long people can hang on to something that we heard once. It seems obvious enough to me that train ridership would increase gradually over time, and I'm not surprised to hear that there weren't thousands of people crowding all the platforms the day the train began service. But that's changed now (okay, we're still not up to thousands-- the train doesn't have that much capacity), so maybe after a couple more years I'll stop hearing about how there's "nobody" riding the trains.

Or maybe not. Texans do love their traditions, after all.

Are there any pithy but untrue statements that you hear a lot? Or is there an idea you're hanging on to that you may need to let go of?


Tim said...

Probably some confirmation bias going on. There are times during the day when you can watch trains go by with nobody staring out the windows at you. This could particularly striking to a motorist sitting at a crossing guard fuming at having to wait for the choo choo to pass.

This is similar to the comments you hear about the bus. At the extremes of a lot of routes, the bus tends not to have a lot of passengers. People see this as being true for the entire route, not realizing that earlier the bus was packed.

I have experienced both extremes on the Red Line. Sardine time contrasted by a car all to myself.

Denyce said...

It's still funny to me to think of usable public transportation in Texas. I feel like ours here is really good and convenient - and then we were in Budapest. I was blown away by how even-more-convenient it was. We ended up having a rental car the last day in Budapest, and it was so very difficult to get somewhere with all the one-way streets and then having to pay for public parking. We considered using buses and such while in DFW a couple of years ago, but really, it would have been much more expensive to ride with a family than to pay for gas (assuming, of course, that you already have a car). What do you pay for a ride there?

Su Wilcox said...

@Tim: Definitely true. And while I don't sit at many intersections waiting for the train, Crestview seems to be a repeat offender. The signals there are really long-lasting; much longer than necessary. I was waiting there with my bike this morning, and a firetruck was also caught. I get REALLY upset (much more than necessary-- I'm far too emotional) when I see emergency vehicles stuck at the train crossings for no good reason.

@Denyce: I kind of admire the DART system from afar, but I'm sure I would get aggravated (as many people do, if all one hears is true) if I were to use it myself on a regular basis. We pay $60 per month (per person) to use all the bus routes + the train, or $30 per month for just the non-express buses. Fares are about to go up, though, so we're enjoying it while we can.

Yokota Fritz said...

Empty buses and trains is a persistent meme, even in California. Consider El Camino Real in Silicon Valley: bus passengers outnumber cars, yet we still see a few local politicians complain about the 'empty buses' on that route!

In the United States, light rail ridership has in almost every case outstripped initial ridership estimates. The only exception is here, where our transportation planners invested several hundreds of millions in our 42 mile light rail system, but then spend 1000x that to expand the highway system that parallels each of those lines.

I'm glad to hear Austin's light rail is doing well.

M1EK said...


Not only did Cap Metro predict overfull trains on Day One, they're still pulling around 2,000 boardings/day; when the light rail line (2000 route) that this thing killed would have easily pulled off ten times as many on day one.

The Red Line can't really grow any further in ridership without substantial investment, but there's a very low ceiling to how much more ridership it could get (due to not going directly to UT, capitol, or the good part of downtown; the Feds in 1997 laughed an earlier proposal for double-track electric light rail on this same corridor out of the room). It can't be extended TO those places because the technology is a stupid suburban model which doesn't work well in areas where it has to make turns; not that we need more diesel-idling next to high pedestrian traffic areas anyways.

Even at the current ridership, where most peak trips in peak direction are full, it requires >$20 subsidies per rider - and the majority of the riders live in cities which don't pay Capital Metro taxes. If this were a bus line, it'd be cancelled (we cancel bus lines for poor performance all the time which have a higher fare recovery than this one, and at least those riders pay Cap Metro taxes!)

Overall, the Red Line was the biggest disaster in Austin transportation history.

Misha Gericke said...

Mmm yeah I get a lot of comments like that. Especially when people who've never written anything worth publishing take about writing.

Anonymous said...

You know what is funny that I hear a lot. When I talk to people from other states they always say, "Does Boston really have great beans?" You know what? I have no idea why that is even known for my state! Some of it could come from the fact that I dont like beans but I have talked to plenty of other people and really beans are not our one thing we are proud of. Such a strange thing to be known for in this state.